What happens when you study Art and Literature and you are told that “the Pre-Raphaelites were a group of painters and poets who attempted to introduce into visual art, not only the qualities of medieval Italian painting, but a concern with naturalistic accuracy of detail and by the 1850s what is associated with Pre-Raphaelite painting had become its dominant feature: the merely decorative neo-medievalism, subjectivity dreaminess , the morbid and languid sensuousness”?

You - 20 something and a bit bored - imagine them like this ...

 Later on - not 20 something anymore – the same “you” plays a DVD titled DESPERATE ROMANTICS and discovers that they - the Pre Raphaelites - might have been ... different.  They might have been rebellious lively young men like this one…

Certainly, that "you" starts
1.    reappraising those figures as less boring human beings
2.  thinking that her English Literature teacher was not that wrong when she said they were very revolutionary young guys and their art was innovative, though rooted in the past
3.   then she regrets her being rather incredulous and even a bit bored then!
She preferred Shakespeare, Jane Austen and the Victorian novelists much more than that painter/poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (“half Italian – half mad”) and his sister Christina!

Joking , of course, though something not very dissimilar happened to me watching DESPERATE ROMANTICS, 2009 BBC 6-part series, broadcast last summer on BBC2 , now available on DVD . Those brand new DVDs were just there waiting to be seen to bring me back to my beloved university years but with a different, totally different, spirit.

Not that I consider this series perfect or that I particularly liked it, nor that it is an accurate historical reconstruction of the events. What I recognized in it is that, it is, indeed , a lively tale of those young revolutionary artists’ lives and loves (sexual affairs?), which can really make you sympathize with them and their art.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti has the saucy , wild, charming look of Aidan Turner (above and left); John Everett Millais, the sweet, naive - quite feminine - features of Samuel Barnett (below, on the right) . The two are,  with Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt, the most important members of the PRE-RAPHAELITES BROTHERHOOD. There is a fourth member, Fred Halter, not a painter but a hanger, who is fictional and is a blend of several historical figures who were round the brotherhood.

I’ve watched the 6 episodes in three different stages - it took me more than I thought, since I  expected only 4 episodes – and particularly liked the first three ones. I’d have avoided all those explicit sex scenes and references and would have cut several repetitive moments, such as some arguments among the 4 mates or  between the different couples of lovers, despite them being quite amusing. It is not that I felt offended, I’m not so prudish, and I perfectly know about the scandalous love triangles of those painters with their models which became the subject of much gossip among their contemporaries, particularly as these relationships often crossed the class barriers of polite Victorian society. I would only have cut some of them, unnecessary ones.

My favourite character was, of course, charming seducer Rossetti, so incapable of being faithful, so passionate in his ways, so fascinatingly imperfect and ingenuous, smart and mischievious. I can’t believe he painted this

………… or this……….

But he did.

Now I don't want to give away too much, so that if you can or want to watch the series, you won't find too many spoilers in my review. Anyhow,  if you are interested, click on the  links above the images below and you will read very detailed reviews of each episode. If you don't feel like reading, just have a look at these beautiful caps.

Many are the Victorian historical figures featured in this period drama apart from the Pre-Raphaelites themselves. Among the others,  Charles Dickens, John Ruskin (Millais married Mrs Ruskin after her previous marriage was annulled), and William Morris ( Rossetti had an affair with his wife).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Millais declared their irreverent genius to the Victorian artistic establishment as frequently and as loudly as they could and they have  left us their wonderful refined art which paved the way to the Aesthetic Movement of the end of the century. One work for all by John Everett Millais ...

Ophelia's Death

If you want to see and to know more about the Pre-Raphaelites, visit http://www.preraphaelites.org/



Table Talk said...

I haven't watched this series, which got a critically panning in the UK but I do love the Pre-Raphaelites. We have some wonderful examples in our local art gallery. I used to take the children there and they always responded to them.

Seccionista said...

Thanks for a great review. I wasn't sure I wanted to see this but now you've made me very curious.

Lucy said...

Maria Grazia- you write an astonishing and fantastic review! I love the Pre-Raphaelites in general! And- I do picture them to be exactly as shown. Wow-you run a pretty fantastic course...wish I learned my lit that way:) Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to write something about this series but still can't quite make up my mind what I thought about it - interested to hear that you had mixed feelings too. I liked your review and the lovely pictures you chose. Judy

Mo said...

More teachers like you are nedded here. There is a debate in the papers at thee moment along the lines of..Kids dont need to learn a bunch of old dates they need to be allowed mobile phones in class and learn how to set up face book.

Seccionista said...

Don't forget to check my blog today http://anecasworld.blogspot.com/2009/10/elizabeth-leiknes-giveaway-winner.html ;-)

mulubinba said...

Thank you Maria - beautiful review. I will have to keep an eye out for this - hopefully ABC will air it here.

JaneGS said...

Wonderful review and personal perspective. I have been wanting to watch this series but must be patient and enjoy it vicariously. :)

Maria Grazia said...

I bought the DVD as soon as it was available, but you need a version suitable for the States. Has it been released yet? I don't know, actually! Hope you can see it soon and enjoy it; meanwhile, I'm glad I let you do it vicariously.:)